pulverize the planetaria pillagers

I let all kinds of ugly election-year stuff go by without comment, but I’m a science geek (of the non-scientist variety), so when McCain goes after something dear to my heart like a planetarium, I get feisty. I know this has been around the blogosophere a hundred times, but it bears repeating.

In the recent presidential debate, McCain accused Obama of voting to spend $3 million taxpayer dollars on an “overhead projector for a planetarium.” That’s a tad misleading, because McCain was referring to a bipartisan effort to replace a 40-year-old star projector for the oldest planetarium theater in the U.S.

I happen to know that a planetarium is a rare and awesome place–the coolest place in the world for a kid or adult who loves science and astronomy. A good planetarium is not cheap. (In fact, the $3 million was less than a third of the full cost of the restoration. The majority was to be privately funded.) A planetarium experience sends people out into the night with telescopes, anxious to learn more and see the real thing. We need to kick-start interest in science in this country, not pull the plug. McCain’s values are the opposite of mine. And his VP is downright anti-science.

The recent opinion polls scare me, because they actually give some hint that maybe McCain won’t be elected. It scares me because I don’t want to get my hopes up only to find my dreams crushed beneath a falling planetarium dome. We’ve already had eight years of the wrecking ball.

Here’s a response from the Adler Planetarium in Chicago:

“Statement About Senator John McCain’s Comments At The Presidential Debate

“Last night, during the presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Senator John McCain made the following statement:

“McCain: ‘While we were working to eliminate these pork barrel earmarks he (Senator Obama) voted for nearly $1 billion in pork barrel earmark projects. Including $3 million for an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago, Illinois. My friends, do we need to spend that kind of money?’

“To clarify, the Adler Planetarium requested federal support – which was not funded – to replace the projector in its historic Sky Theater, the first planetarium theater in the Western Hemisphere. The Adler’s Zeiss Mark VI projector – not an overhead projector – is the instrument that re-creates the night sky in a dome theater, the quintessential planetarium experience. The Adler’s projector is nearly 40 years old and is no longer supported with parts or service by the manufacturer. It is only the second planetarium projector in the Adler’s 78 years of operation.

“Science literacy is an urgent issue in the United States. To remain competitive and ensure national security, it is vital that we educate and inspire the next generation of explorers to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“Senator McCain’s statements about the Adler Planetarium’s request for federal support do not accurately reflect the museum’s legislative history or relationship with Senator Obama.

“The Adler has approached the Illinois Congressional delegation the last few years for federal assistance with various initiatives. These have included museum exhibitions, equipment and educational programs we offer to area schools, including the Chicago Public Schools.

“We have made requests to Senators Durbin and Obama, as well as to 6 area Congressmen from both political parties. We are grateful that all of the Members we have approached, including Senator Obama, have deemed our activities worthy of their support, and have made appropriations requests on our behalf, as they have for many worthy Illinois nonprofit organizations.

“As a result of the hard work of our bipartisan congressional delegation, the Adler has been fortunate to receive a few federal appropriations the past couple of years.

“However, the Adler has never received an earmark as a result of Senator Obama’s efforts. This is clearly evidenced by recent transparency laws implemented by the Congress, which have resulted in the names of all requesting Members being listed next to every earmark in the reports that accompany appropriations bills.”